Follow my dreams or follow the money?
June 29, 2008 11:38 PM   Subscribe

I'm 33 years old, make a low six figure income, married, no kids. Up for big promotion. Is it time to give up my dreams of being a writer? LOTS more inside...

Since I was 7 I have had one dream--be a writer. Other kids wanted to be firemen, astronauts, etc. I wanted to be a writer...and very very rich. The type of writing changed, it started off as I wanted to write novels, and then it became comic books, and then movies. Now, as an adult, it's a big combination of those.

While I consider myself talented, I am currently unpublished and truly not a very disciplined writer. I go through spurts where I write lots, including some early this year where I really flexed that creative muscle and gave my all in a "write your own comic book" writing contest a comic book company had. I also have written a self-help book that is about 70% done, and I have lots of ideas for short stories, comic books, etc. My wife is very supportive of my dreams of writing.

My undergraduate degree is in media production with a focus on television and radio work. When I graduated college my dream was to work in television, and I wrote a screenplay while I was in college and my friends and I almost filmed the movie, but we did not.

After college though I found myself in need of non-minimum wage earning work, and I got a job designing web pages. I have always been good with computers and worked professionally in computers for several years.

When full motion video games were en vogue (Under a Killing Moon, Wing Commander 3, etc) I thought I would like to write video games as some back then had a great story. I decided to "break into" video games as a programmer as I was working in IT and I went back and got my Master's degree in Computer Science.

Fast forward 8 years...I never got into games (interviewed in person with some big names but I didn't have enough experience). And I met a woman, fell in love, and got married. We have no plans to have kids. Since I was not getting a games job I looked for professional programming jobs in my area and ended up getting one.

I never gave 100% to my day job, I never have even given 50% to my day job. Mostly I have sleepwalked through my jobs while in my off time working on pursuing fame and fortune. I've even acquired a bit of internet "fame" with a podcast that gets about 1.2 million downloads per year... Through this internet "fame" I have actually made some B and C level contacts who work in Television, etc. some of whom I can truly call "friends". It's very nice.

But in this time I've met a lot of working professionals...writers...and I've come to realize my life is far more comfortable then theirs. I make (very) low six figures and live in a very low cost of living area. Most of my income is from my day job, NOT from my podcast...while I approach my podcast as a business it is truly at this point a time-consuming hobby and if it went away tomorrow my lifestyle would not change.

So I see these professional writers, directors, actors, etc. and they're all scraping by. They can't afford extra cash to travel, something I really like, and they work their behinds off to make less than I do in areas that have higher cost of living than I do.

To be honest, I want a life where I live at the style of living I have now or better but my career is something I enjoy, which is being creative, working with creative people, and creating things. Be that in writing, producing, etc. This is "my dream". But now I have very good friends who are trying to "live the dream" and it seems to me that these friends are also useful contacts and I could pretty easily jump the fence and become a struggling artist like they are.

But my wife and I like material things. We like our creature comforts. We enjoy our style of living (combined salary is over 150k) and we don't want to give that up.

So here is my question: is it time to stop pursuing foolish dreams of working creatively, writing comics, writing novels, producing television, and actually give my all to my day job where I am quite successful and live a life where I enjoy the 16 hours per day I'm not working and ignore the 8 hours per day I am? Or should I continue to spend time and some money to harvest contacts, and either self-publish a comic book or some other creative venture?

I just don't want to be the 40 year old businessman who is constantly writing the "great American novel" in his spare time...
posted by anonymous to Work & Money (53 answers total) 19 users marked this as a favorite
 
Sometimes you have to choose between things. That's life.

How do you want to be remembered when you die? The programmer who had a bunch of dumb fucking gadgets and a big stupid fuck-off car and a ridiculous mortgage for a house eight times bigger than he needed? Or as a real person with a real soul who decided that the creative spirit was more important than dead matter?

I hear the new 3G iPhone is going to be pretty sweet.
posted by Optimus Chyme at 11:50 PM on June 29, 2008 [17 favorites]


Do you need to be making money with your writing to consider yourself a writer? Does it need to be your job to be creative?

It seems like you wont be able to easily jump into a creative field while retaining all the comforts of your current salary. Which one is worth more to you? Perhaps you could work out some arrangement with your job where you take a pay cut for reduced hours, or regular unpaid leave, or something that would let you have more time to do what you enjoy.
posted by twirlypen at 11:57 PM on June 29, 2008


As someone who (financially) barely breaks even.. lives paycheck-to-paycheck, and some days cant even afford to eat... I am struggling to comprehend how living on a six-figure income you say you cant afford to invest in your dreams. How hard would it be to set aside a little money?.. rearrange your schedule to have fridays off and spend your 3 day weekends doing something creative?... nurture your industry contacts in your spare social time and volunteer to be involved in random creative local projects?...

I'm obviously no expert (I'm still struggling to find a way "out").. but I do know the secret comes down to deciding what you want MORE.. and deciding what you are willing to sacrifice to get it. Thankfully for me, the past few years I went through some situations where I literally "lost everything" and had to start over. Nice, because it taught me a lot about priorities. Not so nice because I'm going to spend the next 10+ years struggling more to rebuild. Funny how life works.
posted by jmnugent at 12:00 AM on June 30, 2008 [7 favorites]


I don't see why the two have to be mutually exclusive. There have been plenty of writers with day jobs before you, and there will be plenty more when you're gone. Writers aren't all crammed up in stinky garrets dying of TB and wondering where to go begging for their next meal.

To me, the "am I too comfortable to be a writer" non-issue (and the fact that it took you a very, very long time to explain it in this post) may be an indication that you are avoiding some deeper issues, such as fear, failure to complete projects, and unwillingness to "just do it" when just doing it almost certainly means the years of shitty first drafts, false starts, trunked novels or screenplays, and rejection that accompany all but the luckiest writers.

There's something to be said for the age-old adage that "writers write."
posted by mynameisluka at 12:04 AM on June 30, 2008 [3 favorites]


My automatic reaction is never give up your dreams. You can always amend them to fit in with your present reality. You are a result of the choices you have made. The Future You will be the result of the choices you make now.

Life is also about sacrificing one thing to get something else. I don't know where you live, or what the cost of living is, or what kind of flexibility you have in making changes to your living arrangements. You have a high salary. But you could be just as in bondage to money as someone living in poverty if you are living at or beyond your means. Again, I have no clue.

So... can you make sacrifices over the next couple years to put aside as much money as possible in order to allow you to then focus full time on your writing career? This might mean living in a way that's less than you are used to. And it might mean that's how you live for the rest of your life. But is doing what you love more valuable than a nicer house and car and clothes and vacations?

Just from your the way you phrase your question, it sounds like you don't want to be a writer, not really. Because you don't want to give up what you have. If you wanted it, really wanted it, you would make the sacrifices and suffer whatever is necessary to achieve it. It sounds like your income has come relatively easy to you. Maybe you expect everything else to come the same way.

So, only you can answer your own question. How important is your dream? Your current actions and attitude say "not very." But that can change. You have to be the one to change it.

One of my favorite movies is Adaptation, coincidentally a movie about writing.
John Laroche: Point is, what's so wonderful is that every one of these flowers has a specific relationship with the insect that pollinates it. There's a certain orchid look exactly like a certain insect so the insect is drawn to this flower, its double, its soul mate, and wants nothing more than to make love to it. And after the insect flies off, spots another soul-mate flower and makes love to it, thus pollinating it. And neither the flower nor the insect will ever understand the significance of their lovemaking. I mean, how could they know that because of their little dance the world lives? But it does. By simply doing what they're designed to do, something large and magnificent happens. In this sense they show us how to live - how the only barometer you have is your heart. How, when you spot your flower, you can't let anything get in your way.
posted by Fuzzy Skinner at 12:07 AM on June 30, 2008 [5 favorites]


I hope you're not inventing a whole raft of drama to justify some kind of "good art comes from suffering" ethos, because that one's a hoax and it's condescending to glorify the miserable existences you see in who you think are your creative peers (or heroes). You can use your resources to find out what has already been done and what would stick out to you as a worthy creative project. You can figure out what is creative and what is The George Lopez Show. Quit lollygagging in "dreams" and all that BS and do something worth doing. You can do both.

If you really need time, take a break from the podcasting and move that time into writing.
posted by rhizome at 12:17 AM on June 30, 2008 [2 favorites]


"While I consider myself talented, I am currently unpublished and truly not a very disciplined writer."
Keep your job and become a disciplined writer. It's nice being a starving artist but it's also nice having some financial freedom and being able to travel. Whatever makes you happy. Besides, you don't seem to have a clear idea what you want to do after becoming a starving artist. A lot of jobs involve "working with creative people."
"I just don't want to be the 40 year old businessman who is constantly writing the "great American novel" in his spare time... "
The 40 year old businessman isn't stupid because he writes a novel. He's stupid because he never finishes it.
posted by theiconoclast31 at 12:20 AM on June 30, 2008 [6 favorites]


Don't quit the job, you have never stuck with writing enough to prove that it's "your thing". As you said, you write in spurts.

Don't just do your work & give up writing, obviously it's not your interest.

If you don't want to do your job full time until you're 65, do a Google search for "Retire Early". There are plenty of good websites to explain how to save your money.

You make a 6 figure salary. Save 50% of it, invest it, etc. Do your 9 hours per day, and set aside time each day to write. If you don't write, at least you have a nice salary.

Then in 15 years, you can retire. You'll only be 48, not too bad. Do writing full time, podcast (or whatever else is around in 15 years), and that's it. There are plenty of people who don't love their job, but do it for the cash. You're in a good financial situation, take advantage of it.
posted by ceberon at 12:21 AM on June 30, 2008


Continue to write. Continue to try and get it published. Your day job should have nothing to do with that.
posted by thebrokenmuse at 12:22 AM on June 30, 2008 [1 favorite]


Seconding theiconoclast31. You're not in any way ambivalent about wanting to write, so...write. Your uncertainty and confusion are coming from your lack of discipline, not the fact that you have a day job.

Make a resolution to write for at least an hour, every day, preferably at the same time. Set up a routine for your writing and don't deviate from it. If all you can come up with per day is half a page of crap, then so be it. That's better than what you're doing now.

A lot of people in the business world claim to write "in their spare time," but few of them actually do it. They go home at night, make dinner, putter around the house, and watch baseball -- and then wonder what happened to their novel.

Start writing. When you've completed a couple stories and publishers are looking at manuscripts for your novel, then you can think about leaving the job.
posted by venividivici at 12:33 AM on June 30, 2008 [3 favorites]


You're wearing golden handcuffs, my friend.

You're comfortable with your standard of living right now. You're going to be even more comfortable when you take that promotion and make more money.

You could be comfortable with significantly less. You could get comfortably by on <>
You're one of the blessed few who a) have a dream, and b) have the ability to see it come true. But it isn't going to be easy.
posted by allkindsoftime at 12:45 AM on June 30, 2008


I'm seconding theiconoclast31 and some others here somewhat, but I would think that the biggest hurdle here isn't actually your day job, or your desire for material comfort, but the lack of discipline. That is what you need to work on, not agonizing over whether your dreams are juvenile, or just daydreaming about being a writer with a capital W. If you are keen on taking writing towards something beyond a hobby, discipline is essential. You're in a good position to develop a productive work ethic without any serious financial repercussions. How about writing for an hour or each night before bed. Or maybe just three times a week. Or start a blog. Self-publishing is pretty easy these days, too.

Once you have that down, then you can consider seeing if you want to pursue that further. If you can't get the discipline down, you may want to consider the possibility that you weren't cut out for it...

[On preview: venividivici has made me even more redundant, but I'll throw in this somewhat relevant Ira Glass video to make up for it.]
posted by Weebot at 12:48 AM on June 30, 2008 [2 favorites]


*You could get by comfortably on less than $50k per annum. html prob sorry
posted by allkindsoftime at 12:49 AM on June 30, 2008


You should read this.
posted by sharkfu at 12:53 AM on June 30, 2008 [1 favorite]


If you write, then you're a writer. And you're also rich. So I'd conclude that you've achieved both of your goals.

If you want fame or recognition for your writing, then you've got to decide how much more important that is than the life you have. My personal take; It's not more important than the life you have. Do your job; spend time with your family and dip in and out of your writing as and when you fancy it.

There's nothing wrong with being the 40 year old businessman who is constantly writing the "great American novel" in his spare time.
posted by seanyboy at 12:59 AM on June 30, 2008


Wallace Stevens didn't write his canonical works until he was 50. You have seventeen years before you'll be 50. Even with a day job cramping your style, you should probably be able to get something decent written in seventeen years (and you'll still not be the oldest great writer around).
posted by 0xFCAF at 1:04 AM on June 30, 2008 [1 favorite]


From a personal view, I can tell you what I did. I was a VP at a financial services company, I worked with great people, I kept getting promoted and getting raises. But I knew that I didn't want to do that for the rest of my life. I socked away a good amount of it, cultivated consultant gigs that I could continue to do once I left, and then... quit.

I'm now in LA working at becoming a screenwriter, and I've never been happier. Yes, my peers from my old job are now making 200K+ and I'm a grad student, but heh, there is such a rush from being creatively productive and I wouldn't trade that for more money.

That's my life... I certainly don't regret what I did. Lay the groundwork now, and then make the jump (if it's what you REALLY want... I was struggling with low grade depression at the thought of not running after this dream.)
posted by visual mechanic at 1:09 AM on June 30, 2008


"But my wife and I like material things. We like our creature comforts. We enjoy our style of living (combined salary is over 150k) and we don't want to give that up. "

Have a look at your finances and try to reduce the money you're burning through just because you can (you know what I mean; everyone does it to some extent when their income rises). If you can set aside a big chunk of cash it'll give you a lot more freedom and confidence, and you may find you can sustain basically the same standard of living with a smaller income.

It sounds like you have broad technical and creative skills, so it needn't be an all-or-nothing leap. For example, you could do some freelance coding while pursuing the podcast/comics/novels/TV stuff and probably earn a decent wage part-time.
posted by malevolent at 1:11 AM on June 30, 2008


Take the promotion. A writer is a person who writes.
posted by zemblamatic at 1:34 AM on June 30, 2008



You're already writing. As everyone here has said, that whole 'gotta suffer to be creative' is a bunch of jive. You've got the perfect set-up -- you've got plenty of bread, you've got love, work that doesn't make you want to jump off the roof, clean underpants, unless I miss my guess. Just keep writing. Write some more. Then some more. You're already doing it, from what you've told us.

Oh, wait -- you want to be a published writer. You want fame and fortune. You want everyone to moan with ecstasies as they read your words, you want us sobbing, laughing, jumping up and down. Here's the news: The words you've written in this post are the only words you'll ever write that most of us are ever going to read.

Sorry.

Remember Bird by Bird, Lamott telling us all that regardless our talents, most of us aren't going to be published, and if we are published we're not going to grab the golden ring, we're not going to be on Letterman, or NPR, we're not going to go round the country and read at the funkiest bookstores for the coolest crowds.

But I want to read at City Lights.

Well, go there, grab a book off the shelf, and read. But read to yourself, or they'll probably ask you to leave.

Lamott told us to write because we love to write. She tells us to write for love.

I've learned more about myself from writing than from most any other activity I've ever pursued. Psychotherapy? Yah, it's cute, boy oh boy, lots of fun, but it amounts to me sitting in some chair telling some poor bastard my story, it's the spiritual equivalent of jerking off. Jesus. I mean, it's great and all, and you can clearly see that I need it. But still.

I know way more than I ever knew that I did, I know things that I didn't know I knew, and I found that out on the page. Screen, mostly, in my case.

This November, screw your shorts on tight and do nanowrimo. It's a blast, and you've other people all over the world just as nuts as you are, doing the same thing. Your book might be shit. It might be great. Likely it'll be great and shitty, you can either clean it up or toss it, the main thing is that you've cleared your throat, scraped the crud off your tongue, you've got your voice zamming across the page, or across the screen, whatever.

Are you a writer? Then write.
posted by dancestoblue at 1:57 AM on June 30, 2008 [6 favorites]


Trust me, needing money and having no leisure time will totally kill your creativity. You will go from being creative to writing the most bland stuff, because that's what *sells*. Never ever give up your steady source of income to pursue something as nebulous as that. Rather, rearrange your life so you can do both. Otherwise you will discover despair, and it's not a good state to be in.
posted by ChabonJabon at 2:25 AM on June 30, 2008


... I don't understand why you don't write during your free time. Most writers have day jobs, you just have a really cushy one. Why would you ever quit writing anyway? You enjoy it. Even if you never publish anything, who cares? Getting something published is just a perk.

This is completely confusing to me, honestly.
posted by Nattie at 2:55 AM on June 30, 2008 [2 favorites]


Yeah, like dancestoblue says, there's the difference between wanting to have written something, and wanting to write. I suggest to you that you belong to the first group, the wanting to have written something. That's the saddest group, because you can't get there from here. A writer, someone who writes for the love of it, succeeds without ever publishing, because they need nothing more than a pen and paper. The undiscovered, unpublished, unwritten writer, they need to have finished something, when they don't actually love writing, AND it needs to be something that other people love too, so that it gets published.

It's things like, you name your preferred area of work (novels, comic books, movies) but you don't name a genre: sci fi, horror, romance, detective. Now admittedly, some authors move between a couple of these, but they have a definite love for one type of story telling. I can't hear it in you.

I belong to the first group, well, I did, until I put a. some blood, sweat and tears into discovering that I didn't actually have a complete story in me, just a couple of unrelated chapters, and b. I followed the other dream and I suggest to you, that there's another dream in you, another desire you have not yet fully tapped. Maybe it's the rich bit that's your dream. Maybe you should start trading in shares or something.
posted by b33j at 3:29 AM on June 30, 2008 [2 favorites]


Relevant advice from Metafilter's own jscalzi here.
posted by tdismukes at 3:35 AM on June 30, 2008


Po Bronson wrote a book called "What Should I do with my Life?" (link is to partial online version) as a result of asking several hundred people who had changed careers about their experience. The book more about sometimes messy and potentially inspiring case studies than it is about easy answers - but Bronson claims that in all his interviews he noted a tendency for people to talk about making a chance during good times but to only take action when forced to do so by bad times (divorce, redundancy, illness etc.). He also pointed out that those who set out to try to pursue a (probably) low income "calling" by initially padding their savings with a high income job have a low success rate in getting to their original career: they get too used to having a large, steady flow of money.

But, as other have said, there are plenty of options for you to try a little more writing while keeping your current job.
posted by rongorongo at 4:25 AM on June 30, 2008 [3 favorites]


I speak from the experience of supporting a full-time freelance writer and editor.

If you want to make money and live comfortably according to the style to which you have become accustomed, the sure bet is to keep your day job.

The person I'm supporting is making progress towards making a living wage (i.e. one with which she could support herself independently), but honestly isn't there yet and she's been working on doing so for about 8 years.

This is a pretty typical timeline for someone working full time, freelance in the industry. There is always the possibility that you'll get lucky or be able to forge for yourself a faster track to success, but remember how many authors there are in the world and how few you hear about really making it big.

If you can do savings and set aside enough nest-egg to support yourself for that long or longer on investments or savings, then by all means, go for that professional writer's credentials, but if that's daunting, then I'd advise trying something part-time that allows you to keep that lucrative day job.

Alternately, if you wished to change careers to some career within the publishing industry, you might also explore that. The problem with writing is that it's a vastly romantic idea, but in practice it gets rather mired in the realities and exigencies of day to day life, as well as the business of keeping the industry lucrative for those who participate in it (publishers, distributors, booksellers, etc.)

Finally, if you do decide to go whole hog, and just go do that writing thing that you fantasize about, I strongly suggest having a good sense of contracts and being able to negotiate contracts yourself before you talk money with anyone in the industry, including agents.
posted by kalessin at 4:57 AM on June 30, 2008


I think there is lots of good advice above, but I'd like to insert a counterbalance against all these people saying you need to write for the love of it and not for the hope of publication and being read. There is nothing — nothing — wrong with wanting to pursue your writing, whether you do it in your spare time or as a full-time endeavor, as something that will be commercially successful because it will be purchased and read because it will bring some happiness or at least a little distraction and entertainment to the people who consume it. I am always deeply suspicious of people who claim to love the process of writing itself.
posted by game warden to the events rhino at 5:17 AM on June 30, 2008


So here is my question: is it time to stop pursuing foolish dreams of working creatively, writing comics, writing novels, producing television, and actually give my all to my day job where I am quite successful and live a life where I enjoy the 16 hours per day I'm not working and ignore the 8 hours per day I am?

Instead of enjoying the 16 hours a day ( you don't sleep? ), set aside a few hours to do all the creative stuff outlined above. You have your weekends free too to do this and you have no children. You sound like you have scads of free time ... so schedule your writing etc. into your daily life. You don't need to quit your job to get some motivation.
posted by the_ancient_mariner at 5:25 AM on June 30, 2008


Fast Company Magazine, May 2006 - Join the Corporate Literati.

It's not an either/or...
posted by NotMyselfRightNow at 5:26 AM on June 30, 2008


I'm reading this and wondering if there could possibly be a better situation for someone to "be a writer."

* Plenty young still, but old enough to have lived a little.
* Financially super-stable.
* Gainfully employed in a job that only requires 8 hours a day.
* Partnered up with someone supportive.
* Unencumbered by children (which is a BIG encumbrance, believe me, when you're talking about leveraging your non-working hours for your own pursuits)
* Smart-ish.
* Built-in intertube audience via the podcast.
* Some "contacts"

Other than having a parent or sibling already in publishing, brother, it doesn't get any more packaged up in a pretty bow than that. Sit yourself down, make sure you understand this and appreciate it, then start taking advantage of it.

Take the promotion. It doesn't sound to me like this will have any impact on your output, because your output seems to be hampered by two things totally unrelated to your job's constraints; discipline and focus. Both fixable. Pick something to start working on, then work on it daily.

You also say, "...the 16 hours per day I'm not working..." Make it 14 hours a day you're not working and use those missing 2 hours to work on whatever it is you end up deciding to pursue.
posted by TheManChild2000 at 6:08 AM on June 30, 2008


Take the promotion, keep writing. Pretty obvious decision. If you have any real talent, any burning drive to write and create, then you won't need self-induced state of penury that is "writer's lifestyle" to spur you on to success. As others have noted, plenty of writers have had day jobs until it became financially worth their while to concentrate on their writing full-time. A lot of those day jobs are things like writing technical manuals and covering school board elections for local papers; though they may superficially resemble "writing," they involve nothing of the real writing you'd wish to do and pay a paltry fraction of what you're making now. Consider yourself lucky to be in the position you're in. Stop looking at your external circumstances as a barrier to your writing, and instead see them as, in fact, very conducive to it -- you're the only thing currently standing in your way.
posted by decoherence at 6:33 AM on June 30, 2008


Honestly, this post makes me a little impatient. The vast, vast majority of working writers have day jobs. They come home and sit down and write. Or they write on the train to work. Or they keep a recorder at hand and mutter into it whenever they have a free moment. You're just lucky enough to have a salary that will let you farm out stuff like housework so you have more free time at home.

If you're concerned about money, then stick to the day job. There's absolutely nothing wrong with wanting to make money from your writing but there's no guarantee that it will ever happen. What if it does happen, and you get that big two book contract with a huge advance and then you never sell through? Then you're right back where you've started except now if you want to publish again you'll probably have to use a pseudonym.

If you are here wanting permission to pick the lifestyle you've become accustomed to over the hard work of writing, then I give it to you. I am not snarking on you here. If there is something inside of you that is telling you to give it up, then do it. Why torture yourself?
posted by sugarfish at 6:34 AM on June 30, 2008 [3 favorites]


In my job I get to meet a decent number of published writers, very few of them write exclusively. Some of them even have cushy day jobs.
posted by drezdn at 6:42 AM on June 30, 2008 [1 favorite]


As a struggling artist myself, I can only fantasize about the freedom $150/yr could bring me. I could easily scale-back my expenses and put away a sizable chunk of cash to cushion the lean times while I devote more time to what I want to do.

You're in a dream position, economically, most would-be creatives would die for.
posted by Thorzdad at 6:46 AM on June 30, 2008


How do you want to be remembered when you die? The programmer who had a bunch of dumb fucking gadgets and a big stupid fuck-off car and a ridiculous mortgage for a house eight times bigger than he needed? Or as a real person with a real soul who decided that the creative spirit was more important than dead matter?

Alternately, you might ask how you want to live before you die. Do you want to live comfortably with enough free time to write your novel or comic book or whatever if you just shut up and write the fucking thing, or uncomfortably with more than enough free time to write it? Do you want to live with a bunch of dumb fucking gadgets and a big stupid fuck-off car and a house eight times bigger than you need, or in an especially shitty little apartment with a wife nursing a quiet resentment of her increased responsibilities until she leaves for someone she doesn't have to support and nothing but a stack of uncompleted manuscripts and some rejection letters to comfort you?
posted by ROU_Xenophobe at 6:56 AM on June 30, 2008


I know lots of writers who have done nothing but write for decades. Careers, friends, family, kids, all secondary to writing -- and they all are awful writers who will never produce anything of significance, because they can't write anything worth reading.

Oh, they can write in a technically proficient sense, sure -- but they have nothing to say. Nothing they write feels lifelike, because life is the thing they have the least experience with. It's no shock this type of writer tends to lean toward the fantastical, but you still end up with writing that feels like pretty soulless plastic... writing that only other poor, obsessed writers could possibly appreciate. It seems that for writing to really live, the author has to live, too.

If you want to just write for you, then just write... but if you hope to write something likely to be widely appreciated, you are already in a pretty near ideal situation to do so. Don't waste it.
posted by Pufferish at 6:59 AM on June 30, 2008


I'm tempted to say just quit your job and start writing. What's the worst that can happen? If writing isn't as fulfilling as you'd hoped you can always go back and become a programmer again. It's always a lot easier returning to a prior career than making a career change.

Alternatively try to limit your actual time at the office so that you get more time at home that you can devote to writing. Ease your boss into thinking of you as an employee that is more productive as a homeworker. This of course requires discipline on your part to actually be more productive at home. Make the suggestion to your boss that as an experiment for two weeks you not come into the office on Fridays. Give a reason that you feel that there are too many distractions and that very little productive work seems to get done on a friday in the office.

Choose one of your writing projects and stick with it until it is finished. You have a Self-help book that is 70% complete, start there and stick with it until it is complete. Too many projects result in none of them ever becoming complete. Prioritize and discipline yourself to set aside some time free from all distractions and just write.
posted by electricinca at 7:32 AM on June 30, 2008


You want to have your cake and eat it too, with no risk. But you already have a six-figure salary and time to noodle around on writing projects as much or as little as you like, plus you have the podcast side-gig. You ARE having your cake and eating it too.
posted by desuetude at 7:35 AM on June 30, 2008


Like Einstein proved, Time == Money. You've got the money, so convert it into time. Seriously. Outsource all the crap that takes up time. Laundry? Cleaning? Yard work? Cooking? Bill paying? Shampooing the dog? You can pay people to do that stuff for you. Have them do it.

Take that newly available time and write. I don't mean little random stuff, I mean take on a for-real "I'm going to finish this and sell it" project with a deadline. Go ahead, I'll wait...

Okay, how did it go? Love and it and still want to write as a career? Or does writing as a hobby sound like a lot more fun? I bet the answer is pretty obvious by now.
posted by LastOfHisKind at 7:40 AM on June 30, 2008 [1 favorite]


Oh and I will add another technique that I think is useful:

1. Use some of your good money to book and pay for some sort of retreat or vacation say a year from now. Pay the money, mark it in your diary, make the commitment.
2. Postpone all further mental wranglings and fretting about whether to give up your job or what do to with your life until that retreat. Keep pursuing the day job in all ways that seem sensible, which probably includes the promotion.
3. Spend the intervening year trying to make the writing gig work at the same time. Choose a project and stick to it. You don't need to worry about choosing the wrong goal, or sinking into mediocrity, or suddenly waking up and being the 40-year-old treading water whom you mention, because you know that one year from now you're going to take a good hard look at how it's worked out, or not. And that might be the time, potentially, to quit your job if you're not happier with the situation then than you are now. You'll be 34.
posted by game warden to the events rhino at 7:58 AM on June 30, 2008 [2 favorites]


Dude, let me be the one to tell you, you are living in a romantic fantasyland of what it means to be a writer. There are 37 of us in Debut 2009. We all have our first novels coming out next year.

We have a software engineer, a software tester, several teachers, several lawyers, a magazine editor, a PR flack, a Guard coach, a children's theatre director, a doula and a sales rep among us. Out of 38, THREE of us ONLY write for a living. Two, because they got a huge contract on their book series while putting themselves through law school, and one, because 75% of the living writing is technical writing, not novels.

So let me put it bluntly: quit pussyfooting around and write the fucking novel. Quit gazing at your well-fed 6 figure navel, and write the fucking novel. You don't get to quit your day job and write full time until AFTER you sell a novel or four. Let me repeat that in case I have been in any way unclear:

MOST PEOPLE DON'T GET TO QUIT THEIR DAY JOBS UNTIL THEY ARE ALREADY SUCCESSFUL PUBLISHED AUTHORS.

So before you even start worrying about how very comfortable your life is, and how you may not want to give that up, do these things:

1) Discipline yourself
2) Write the fucking novel
3) Get it critted
4) Revise the fucking novel
5) Get an agent
6) Get published

And then, only then, do you worry about whether you can make a living at it IF you quit your day job.
posted by headspace at 8:10 AM on June 30, 2008 [8 favorites]


Set some goals. Get a plan to meet them. Write.

It doesn't matter that you already have a job. I've been publishing stuff for years. I also have two small businesses and two little ones who are not in childcare. I have the time. So you have the time. You just need to put a plan in place and get moving.
posted by acoutu at 8:14 AM on June 30, 2008


Very timely question. I just read this and it is tailored for you and those like you, like me :-P
posted by toastchee at 8:19 AM on June 30, 2008


Good lord, just write, already.

Look up this story in the June 9th New Yorker (only the abstract is available online, unles you have Lexis-Nexis access). Haruki Murakami is the owner of a nightclub who hears a voice telling him to write a novel....at the ripe old age of 30.

He quits the business at 33, after the reception of that first novel convinces him he can be a critical and commerical success.

We all know how that story ends.

Toni Morrison wrote The Bluest Eye--published when she was 39--while working long hours, full time, as an editor, and the mother of young children to boot. Yeah, I don't like the book much either, but it was her first, and now she's got the Nobel Prize.

Writers write. Whether or not you will ever be a commercial success who can support himself in comfort and style just by writing the things you want to write, is an entirely separate issue, and something you have very little control over.
posted by availablelight at 9:10 AM on June 30, 2008 [1 favorite]


Two things. First, discipline is key. You can't write successfully without having a regular production schedule, and you'll need to sit down every day and write. If you say you're undisciplined that will have to be something to fix before quitting your job -- because you don't want to find out you can't actually do it. Also, writing is only the first step: revision and actually getting published are going to take just as much (if not more) time. Most writers don't just sit down and pop out the Great American whatever. As others have said, the idea we tend to have of a writer's life is much more romantic than the reality.

Second, there's no reason to choose one or the other. Start saving until you have enough that you can make it through a year without taking a drop in income (and just in general, paring back on expenses is a good thing: $150k is a goodly salary). Then, take a sabbatical from your job: ask for a one-year (or 6 month or whatever) unpaid leave. Tell then whatever you need to - that you want to recoup your energies for the job or whatever. Do not tell them you want to write a novel.

On your sabbatical, cut your expenses again, to get at least half an idea of what it would be like to write full time. If at the end of the year you're unhappy with your lifestyle, and haven't produced any writing of substance, you'll have your answer right there.
posted by media_itoku at 9:11 AM on June 30, 2008 [1 favorite]


You need to bring discipline to your writing, as in sitting down for a certain period of time each day that´s set aside for writing. This won´t magically become easier if you quit your job.

You dream of fortune? Well, the surest way to get that years down the road is not through planning on being famous. I suggest you learn about the magic of compound interest.
posted by yohko at 9:18 AM on June 30, 2008


Take the promotion. Start socking away some money. Invest in a Writer's Market. Start sending out query letters to magazines and pitch some articles. You can't always write about what you like when you're starting out; the goal is to get some published articles for your clip file. (Stephen King once supported himself by selling stories to True Romance and True Confessions before he sold his first novel.) Doing all this will also tell you whether or not you've got the discipline to be a professional writer. Half-finishing projects when the mood hits you doesn't work even for someone like Danielle Steel. Writing is still a job, and you'll have deadlines. I've been working as a full-time writer since 2003, and I have to honestly say I put in more hours now than I did at any 9 to 5 job. I also work on weekends and holidays when a deadline is looming, or even simply when inspiration strikes. Mr. Adams is also a writer (we work together, in fact) and our combined income is now more than it was when we were in the cubicle world, so we do get to travel a bit more than we used to. However, every "vacation" is a working vacation - we have daily and weekly deadlines in our work, so our laptops are an essential part of our luggage, as are our little digital recorders so that we can "brainstorm" and make notes as we drive. (Story ideas can be found in the most unlikely places, like a "Deer Crossing" sign or the blinking red light on top of a transmitter tower.)

So, if you really want to be a writer, there ain't nothing to it but to sit down and do it. Set aside one hour each evening to browse through the Writer's Market and pitch at least one article idea per week. Best of luck.
posted by Oriole Adams at 9:57 AM on June 30, 2008 [2 favorites]


I know several people who work more than full time jobs, all of who sucsesfully completed National Novel Writing Month.

Try it. If you can't do it, forget about it. Move on and enjoy your life. Start doing the things you want to do now not what you wanted to do when you were 7. (I wanted to be a cat when I was 7.)
posted by Ookseer at 11:05 AM on June 30, 2008 [1 favorite]


Don't quit your day job. If you really want extra time to write, see if you can find a way to cut your hours down to 32 per week. You'd still make 80% of your income - and $80,000 per year is a LOT of money. Use the extra day per week to write.

Understand that although you don't love your day job, it is extremely rare for *anyone* to make the money you do. It's not just that you have a day job - it's that your day job pays out the nose. If you quit and find out that writing either isn't as fulfilling as you want or just doesn't pay the bills after a year, you may not be able to get back to that ridiculously high paying job.

As other people have said, this is not an either/or proposition. You should write regardless of what goes on at your day job. See if you can cut your hours and do both.
posted by cnc at 12:21 PM on June 30, 2008


Sometimes you have to choose between things. That's life.

How do you want to be remembered when you die? The would-be writer who abandoned an excellent career to flounder about, struggling for a living, all because of an adolescent desire to be "famous," and writing things that few people read when you were alive and nobody remembered when you were dead? Or as a real person with a real soul who grew up, became responsible, got a real job, and realized that your dreams of fame and fortune as a writer were silly delusions of grandeur best left in adolescence?
posted by jayder at 1:17 PM on June 30, 2008 [1 favorite]


I'm a professional writer, and I'll let you in on a little secret. Most pros do NOT write 8 or even 6 hours a day. (Personally, my head would explode.) So, contrary to conventional wisdom, it doesn't have to be one or the other. You don't have to quit your job.

Here's all you do. 1. Get up an hour earlier. 2. Write for two hours before you head off to your job. 3. Repeat daily.

After 3 months you'll have written 80-90,000 words -- the equivalent of an entire novel. That's assuming you're producing 1000 words a day. But even if you can only manage 500 words a day, it will still take only six months.

If you can coast at work, use some of that time to schmooze and network with industry contacts who can propel you forward.

One other thing: When you're age 60 and looking back, you're going to regret what you DIDN'T do, a lot more than what you did...
posted by wordwhiz at 1:49 PM on June 30, 2008 [1 favorite]


I think you need to look at what's important. Time now with the wife, time now for the podcast, a possible future as a writer, or a probable future as a highly paid CIO and such.

There are many measures of success; being written about in Entertainment Weekly is only one of them.

That said, you said you have some contacts. How much have you "worked" the contacts, expressed to them your desires to write and gotten their advice on how you should best proceed from your current position?
posted by arniec at 8:58 AM on July 1, 2008


I think before you determine whether or not you are going for the whole enchilada, you need to figure out if you can turn out writing on a regular, consistent basis first.

I'm a "writes in sprints" person too, but god knows I have never been able to keep up a daily schedule for longer than a month without burning out. Obviously, I'll never be any good as a pro. If you discover that you can't keep that up, well, writing freelance/professionally is probably not the career for you. It's best to figure out whether or not you're up for that before you quit the day job.

40-year-old businessman writing the novel in his spare time may very well be the position for you to take, really (sorry to say it). Quitting to write now (or quitting writing at all) would be pretty dumb. But working on stuff on the side sounds like your best option.
posted by jenfullmoon at 3:53 PM on July 1, 2008


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